Huskies midseason report: 3-3 and they could go up or down
The Washington Huskies have been a resilient force in the first half of the 2010 season, but there have been head-scratching moments. Will it all come together?
Seattle Times staff reporter
UW @ Arizona, 7:15 p.m., ESPN
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What Steve Sarkisian says has been the defining characteristic of the Huskies during the first half of the season is one he hopes his players don't have to display all that much the rest of the way.
"If I could put one word on the first half — resilient," he said this week.
But as the coach then quickly noted, that resiliency has been tested too often — UW was forced to rebound three times this year in the wake of devastating losses.
"Hopefully we have a couple better words for the second half," Sarkisian said of the Huskies, who are 3-3 as they head to Arizona Saturday night.
But before turning the page completely on the first six games, let's review the Huskies at the midway point of the season.
Lots of candidates here, including tailback Chris Polk — on the way to another 1,000-yard season — and linebacker Mason Foster — on the way to the most tackles by a Husky in more than 20 years.
But if you define valuable as the player whose performance most determines the success of the team, it's hard to ignore quarterback Jake Locker. Sure, the first half hasn't developed entirely the way Locker would have hoped. The Heisman hopes are gone, and his status as the unquestioned first pick in the 2011 NFL draft is threatened.
But in some ways, the first half of the season has only proven anew his value to the team. When Locker has played well, UW has achieved some of its most memorable wins. When not, well, they've had to be "resilient" the following week.
Consider that in UW's three wins, Locker is 67 for 108 (62 percent) passing for 885 yards, 10 touchdowns and one interception, plus 182 yards rushing on 29 carries. And in three losses, he is 49-95 (51.5 percent), for 546 yards with three touchdowns and three interceptions and 95 yards rushing on 33 carries.
Foster, as noted, is on his way to a season for the ages for the Huskies. He has 72 tackles — 17 more than anyone in the Pac-10. If he keeps up that pace the rest of the way he'll finish with the most tackles by a Husky since James Clifford's 168 in 1989.
UW's resiliency was never tested more than facing a fourth-and-11 from its own 23, down 31-29 at USC with roughly two minutes left. Locker moved up in the pocket, then hit D'Andre Goodwin with a little jump pass over the middle for 18 yards, keying a drive that ended in an Erik Folk field goal to win it at the buzzer.
When starting punter Will Mahan went down with a knee injury the week after the opener, it seemed like bad news for a special teams unit that has been shaky. But walk-on Kiel Rasp of Nathan Hale has been a revelation, not only handling the job without mistake but also ranking seventh in the nation in average per kick at 45.9 yards. If he keeps up that pace — and he could be helped by having four of six games away from the notoriously hard-to-kick-in Husky Stadium — he would blow away the school record, which is 43.2 by Sean Douglas in 2006.
Goodwin not only made the play that keyed the USC win, but has helped fill the void created by an injury to Devin Aguilar the last few weeks and has 18 receptions in the past three games, and 20 for the season after being held to just 14 a year ago during an injury-riddled campaign.
1, Losing to BYU. The season-opening defeat looks a little worse with every BYU loss — the Cougars are now 2-5 and on their way to one of their worst seasons ever. If UW falls a game short of a bowl berth, this will be the one everyone looks back on.
2, James Johnson's injury. A nagging ankle sprain has prevented the sophomore receiver from picking up where he left off last year when he had 39 catches. He has just one this season.
3, Tight end production. Husky coaches have downplayed its impact on the offense, but a year after Kavario Middleton caught 26 passes, UW's tight ends are on track for 12.
Three interesting stats
1, UW has two one-point wins in the first half of the season. How rare is that? Before this year, the Huskies had just six since 1975.
2, UW's problems can't be blamed on the refs. No Pac-10 team has a better penalty margin at plus-eight. UW has been called for just 34, fewest in the conference, while its opponents have been whistled for 42.
3, Only one team in the conference is more balanced in terms of run and pass attempts than UW, which has 215 rushing attempts and 208 passing attempts. Arizona State has 232 passes and 226 runs.
For the second year in a row, UW is 3-3 at the midway point. And it's occurred in almost the same fashion — a late-second win over USC, a late nighttime win over a Pac-10 foe (last year Arizona, this year Oregon State), a home blowout of overmatched nonconference team (last year Idaho, this year Syracuse), a home loss to big nonconference foe (last year LSU, this year Nebraska), a road loss to big-name nonconference foe (last year Notre Dame, this year BYU) and an uninspiring loss to a Pac-10 team (last year Stanford, this year Arizona State).
Last year, though, UW lost its next four to fall out of bowl contention, a fate this year's team hopes to avoid.
It won't be easy. The next three foes (at Arizona, Stanford and at Oregon) are a combined 16-2 before the schedule softens just a bit (UCLA, at WSU, at Cal).
But if UW repeats a 3-3 record in the second half, a postseason spot seems assured, given the 70 available bowl slots.
• Locker, who had been limited in practice earlier in the week, practiced fully on Thursday and Sarkisian said he doesn't expect Locker to be limited in any manner Saturday at Arizona.
It's the same scenario as a week ago when Locker sat out much of practice early in the week, then participated fully on Thursday and responded by throwing five TDs in a win against Oregon State.
"I thought he had a nice practice," Sarkisian said. "I thought he looked good. Threw the ball well, ran well, really locked into what we were trying to get accomplished. So it looks like he's ready to go."
• Sarkisian also said that OL Erik Kohler (mono), WR Aguilar (hip) and WR Kevin Smith (hand) will make the trip but will be limited.
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or email@example.com.
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